Review: Punch and Judy Politics, Ayesha Hazarika

Rating: 3 out of 5

What starts out claiming to be a decent history of PMQs as an institution quickly loses a lot of steam because the authors get bogged down in minor detail, leaving the bigger picture aside. The early prime ministers who (kind of) founded the institution are not really fixated upon except to show that they (as much as everyone else) has thought it one of the tougher elements of the job. Yet, while bringing this out the emphasis has fallen away from the fact that when MacMillan and Wilson spoke to the House, they really had to know what they were doing — while these days the answering of questions is less than common.

In this, it feels that the authors’ first hand experience as part of Ed Miliband’s Labour PMQs team is more of a hindrance to the story than anything else. The best sections are continuously the ones where either Blair or Cameron’s opposition time are described, i.e., the parts where the authors had to do some research and investigations. In comparison, the descriptions of Ed Miliband’s leadership and, at the same time, of Cameron’s time in-office, are much more personal. Unfortunately, the authors end up using these instances quite a bit as “We had a very good idea” or “This didn’t pan out as we wanted”, making it a list of apologies for why Miliband was not the greatest leader of the opposition. This reduces the overall value of the book. I also found that a number of the described “strategies” start to repeat themselves, or, if they differed, the differences were so minuscule not to be really worth separating out.

It’s not a bad book per se, but it also doesn’t match what it could have been had someone not so personally involved have been investigating the topic.

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